- A five-time Academy Award nominee, veteran filmmaker Sidney Lumet will finally be taking home an Oscar statuette. The Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences has announced that he will be the next recipient of the Honorary Oscar statuette.
- Sidney Lumet movies include the Best Picture Oscar nominees 12 Angry Men, Dog Day Afternoon, Network, and The Verdict, in addition to Long Day’s Journey Into Night, Serpico, Murder on the Orient Express, and Running on Empty.
Sidney Lumet movies getting Academy recognition: Honorary Oscar going to Serpico & Dog Day Afternoon director
Sidney Lumet, who began directing movies nearly half a century ago and whose credits include the classics 12 Angry Men, Serpico, Dog Day Afternoon, Network, and The Verdict, will be the next recipient of the Honorary Oscar, the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences’ Board of Governors has announced.
The lifetime achievement award, in honor of the 80-year-old filmmaker’s “brilliant services to screenwriters, performers and the art of the motion picture,” will be presented at the 2005 Academy Awards ceremony on Feb. 27.
Best Director nominations
Lumet’s first feature film, the courtroom drama 12 Angry Men, came out in 1957, earning him a Best Director Oscar nomination. Henry Fonda starred as the (at first) sole jury member who believes the accused might actually be innocent.
Since then, Lumet has been shortlisted in the Best Director category for the following:
- The biting social critique Dog Day Afternoon (1975), starring Al Pacino as a would-be (gay) bank robber.
- The anti-television, anti-TV executives comedy-drama Network (1976), with Peter Finch as a news anchorman who threatens to kill himself on air.
- The feel-good courtroom drama The Verdict (1982), with Paul Newman as a down-on-his-luck attorney.
All four films also received Best Picture nominations.
Additionally, Lumet and sometime collaborator Jay Presson Allen were shortlisted in the Best Adapted Screenplay category for Prince of the City (1981), a drama about police corruption headlining Treat Williams.
Allen’s two other credited efforts on Sidney Lumet movies were the poorly received romantic comedy Just Tell Me What You Want (1980), starring Ali MacGraw and Alan King (and notable only for being veteran Myrna Loy’s final big-screen appearance), and, from Ira Levin’s play, the Diabolique– and Sleuth-like comedy-thriller Deathtrap (1982), in which intimate partners-in-crime Michael Caine and Christopher Reeve plot the death of Caine’s wife, Dyan Cannon.
More Sidney Lumet movies
Besides the titles mentioned above, Sidney Lumet movies, most of them spotlighting men and their – usually power-related – issues, include the following:
- A View from the Bridge (1962), a French-Italian adaptation of Arthur Miller’s anti-On the Waterfront play, featuring Raf Vallone as a jealous Brooklyn dockworker who wields the little power he has by denouncing two undocumented immigrants (Jean Sorel, Raymond Pellegrin) to the authorities.
- Long Day’s Journey Into Night (1962), an adaptation of Eugene O’Neill’s dysfunctional family drama that earned leads Katharine Hepburn, Ralph Richardson, Dean Stockwell, and Jason Robards acting awards at the Cannes Film Festival. (Richardson, Stockwell, and Robards were given a joint Best Actor prize.)
- One of Lumet’s most underappreciated efforts, the disturbing A-bomb doomsday thriller Fail-Safe (1964), with Henry Fonda as an American president about to make what could be called a difficult decision.
- The independently made psychological drama The Pawnbroker (1965), with Rod Steiger as an embittered Nazi concentration camp survivor living in New York City.
- The Group (1966), a glossy film version of Mary McCarthy’s acclaimed novel, featuring several up-and-coming actresses of the mid-1960s, among them Candice Bergen as a chic lesbian, Joan Hackett, Shirley Knight, Jessica Walter, Joanna Pettet, and Elizabeth Hartman. In terms of gender focus, The Group remains the most glaring non-male-centered exception in Sidney Lumet’s body of work.
- The unsuccessful The Appointment (1969), with Omar Sharif as a lawyer who – shades of Luis Buñuel’s Belle de Jour – believes that wife Anouk Aimée spends her nights working as a high-class prostitute.
- One of the best-received Sidney Lumet movies, the docudrama Serpico (1973), adapted by Waldo Salt and Norman Wexler from Peter Maas’ biography of 1960s New York Police Department officer Frank Serpico. Al Pacino stars as the title character, exposing a vast network of corruption within the metropolis’ “finest”; for his efforts, he is bullied and threatened by the very people whose job is to serve the community and uphold Law and Order.
- The blockbuster Murder on the Orient Express (1974), with Albert Finney hamming it up as Agatha Christie’s Belgian sleuth Hercule Poirot; veteran Richard Widmark as a vile business type, notorious criminal, and eventual corpse; and an all-star cast of suspects: Scene-stealers Wendy Hiller, Ingrid Bergman, Vanessa Redgrave, and John Gielgud, plus Jean-Pierre Cassel, Lauren Bacall, Anthony Perkins, Jacqueline Bisset, Rachel Roberts, Michael York, and Sean Connery.
- The less successful movie version of Peter Shaffer’s stage hit Equus (1977), with Richard Burton as a psychiatrist and Peter Firth as his horse-fixated patient.
- The musical The Wiz (1978), an eagerly awaited all-black remake of The Wizard of Oz that turned out to be a box office bomb. In the cast: Diana Ross (in the old Judy Garland role), Michael Jackson, Richard Pryor, and Lena Horne. The Wiz is also noteworthy for having marked the demise of Ross’ brief big-screen career.
- One of the most lighthearted Lumet films, the comedy Garbo Talks (1984), with a terminally ill Anne Bancroft as an inveterate Greta Garbo fan.
- Running on Empty (1988), a mix of politics and family drama that was well received in some quarters. Christine Lahti and Judd Hirsch play counterculture bombers on the run; River Phoenix is their talented piano-playing son.
- The thriller Gloria (1999), a widely panned and little-seen remake of John Cassavetes’ 1980 hit. In the old Oscar-nominated Gena Rowlands role, Sharon Stone stars as an ex-con who becomes the ferocious guardian of a boy (Jean-Luke Figueroa) targeted by a murderous gang.
For the time being, the female-centered Gloria is Sidney Lumet’s most recent release.
Power & lack thereof
Lastly, it should be noted that many Sidney Lumet movies have revolved around the issue of power and/or its absence – e.g., 12 Angry Men, A View from the Bridge, Serpico, Dog Day Afternoon, Network, The Verdict.
Ironically, Lumet’s Power (1986), from a screenplay by David Himmelstein about corruption and assorted abuses in U.S. politics, was a major critical and commercial flop despite a name cast that includes Richard Gere, Julie Christie, Gene Hackman, and Network’s Beatrice Straight.
Currently in post-production, Lumet’s latest courtroom drama, the real-life-inspired Find Me Guilty, is also focused on power: informational, political, criminal. The Fast and the Furious actor Vin Diesel stars as a low-level mobster acting as his own attorney at what turned out to be the longest mafia-related trial in U.S. history.
Also in the Find Me Guilty cast: Linus Roache, Peter Dinklage, and Alex Rocco.
Actors’ pathway to Oscars’ shortlist
Thus far, 18 performances (13 actors; 5 actresses) in Sidney Lumet movies have gone on to receive Academy Award nominations, including four Oscar wins. Here are the nominees:
- Katharine Hepburn, Long Day’s Journey Into Night (1962).
- Rod Steiger, The Pawnbroker (1965).
- Al Pacino, Serpico (1973).
- Albert Finney, Murder on the Orient Express (1974).
- Al Pacino & Chris Sarandon, Dog Day Afternoon (1975).
- William Holden & Ned Beatty, Network (1976).
- Richard Burton & Peter Firth, Equus (1977).
- Paul Newman & James Mason, The Verdict (1982).
- Jane Fonda, The Morning After (1986).
- River Phoenix, Running on Empty (1988).
Note: Sarandon, Beatty, Firth, Mason, and Phoenix were shortlisted in the Best Supporting Actor category.
The two Sidney Lumet movies featuring Oscar winners are:
- Murder on the Orient Express (1974): Best Supporting Actress Ingrid Bergman.
- Network (1976): Best Actor Peter Finch, Best Actress Faye Dunaway, and Best Supporting Actress Beatrice Straight.
“Sidney Lumet Movies” endnotes
Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences website.
Al Pacino Serpico image: Paramount Pictures.
“Sidney Lumet Movies Finally Getting Academy Recognition” last updated in September 2021.
I’ll go with Running On Empty